Before Porn Was Legal: The Erotica Empire of Beate Uhse

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University of Chicago Press, Aug 15, 2011 - Biography & Autobiography - 225 pages

Struggling to survive in post–World War II Germany, Beate Uhse (1919–2001)—a former Luftwaffe pilot, war widow, and young mother—turned to selling goods on the black market. A self-penned guide to the rhythm method found eager buyers and started Uhse on her path to becoming the world’s largest erotica entrepreneur. Battling restrictive legislation, powerful churches, and conservative social mores, she built a mail-order business in the 1950s that sold condoms, sex aids, self-help books, and more. The following decades brought the world’s first erotica shop, the legalization of pornography, the expansion of her business into eastern Germany, and web-based commerce.

Uhse was only one of many erotica entrepreneurs who played a role in the social and sexual revolution accompanying Germany’s transition from Nazism to liberal democracy. Tracing the activities of entrepreneurs, customers, government officials, and citizen-activists, Before Porn Was Legal brings to light the profound social, legal, and cultural changes that attended the growth of the erotica sector. Heineman’s innovative readings of governmental and industry records, oral histories, and the erotica industry’s products uncover the roots of today’s sexual marketplace and reveal the indelible ways in which sexual expression and consumption have become intertwined.

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About the author (2011)

Elizabeth Heineman is associate professor in the Department of History and in the Department of Gender, Women's, and Sexuality Studies at the University of Iowa. She is the author of What Difference Does a Husband Make? Women and Marital Status in Nazi and Postwar Germany and editor of Sexual Violence in Conflict Zones: From the Ancient World to the Era of Human Rights.

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